Written by Lyndy van den Barselaar, ManpowerGroup South Africa
The world of work is evolving and while we have seen some positive changes to the workplace since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a change taking place that negatively impacts our businesses, community and economy. It is the greater decline of women in the workplace.
According to McKinsey and Company, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the job loss figures among women was 1.8 times higher than that for men and there was a 70% decrease in part-time jobs in the first three months of the crisis. This is partly a result of industries that employ a higher proportion of women, such as retail, leisure and hospitality, being most affected by the pandemic, while those industries where women have been underrepresented, such as technology and logistics, experienced the most growth during this time.
Another contributing factor is that women tend to be the caregivers of the family and have taken on the role of teacher to their children and carers for elderly relatives, all while balancing remote work or juggling roles that have to be done in the workplace. This recession in women’s representation in the workplace will have long-term consequences for businesses and the economy and needs to be rectified with urgency.
The implication of fewer working women
The impact of the pandemic on women is an issue for everyone in the economy, as under-representing women in the workforce deprives businesses of much-needed skills, leadership and resources. In particular, the soft skills women bring to the business landscape are needed now. In times of rapid transformation and uncertainty, these so-called soft skills are more important than ever in workers and leaders. As we move forward, women can emphasise abilities such as adaptability, communication and human connection to help themselves and their organisations navigate the current changing business landscape.
In addition, according to McKinsey and Company, a regression in the employment of women significantly impacts economies and could lower global GDP growth by an estimate of $1 trillion in 2030 compared to if women’s unemployment tracked that of men in each sector. Conversely, by addressing advanced gender equality now it could add $13 trillion to the global GDP in 2030.
Ways to overcome this issue
We are at an inflection point. Employers must meet the call to support women in their workforces, both personally and professionally. More attention must be paid to the re-balancing of family care responsibilities and careers, and a greater focus must be placed on changing prevailing gender dynamics in the workplace.
As such while flexible work options may seem like an equaliser for men and women in the workplace, according to ManpowerGroup research findings, with women taking on more household responsibilities since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, women are more concerned about going back to the workplace and yet are more appreciative of the office as a means for separating work from home. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to want to be in the physical office for visibility and promotion and are happy and confident to return to the workplace.
As such, as we prepare for a hybrid future, we have to be careful to avoid a two-track workplace: men in the office and women at home, where they may miss out on networking and development. The hybrid workplace needs to accommodate both remote and in-person workers. Further, there is a need to prevent a new form of “presenteeism” whereby employers make assumptions about their employee’s productivity and performance based on whether they are physically co-located or working remotely.
Bridging the leadership gap
While the number of women leaving the workplace is a huge concern, another issue that needs to be addressed is the gap in women leadership. According to ManpowerGroup research findings, established female leaders acknowledge familiar obstacles throughout their careers, including a lack of role models, gendered career paths, and a lack of access to sponsors and influential networks.
However, to help women progress into leadership positions, organisations need to go beyond mentorship networks and actively support promotions. This is supported by the research findings, which state that 42% of women believe that flexible working is key to getting more women into leadership.
To achieve this, companies need to implement a culture that values performance and output over presenteeism. Technology advances and the decoupling of work and location would give women greater control over how and when they get work done and allow them to blend their work and home life to benefit both business and family.
Taking control of the future
While businesses have a role to play in helping to bridge the gap between the number of men and women employed in the workforce, women also have to take responsibility for driving their careers forward and asking for what they want. Companies can implement HR strategies to promote a culture of inclusion, but women need to believe in their abilities and their worth to make it work.
Technology advancements are key to allowing women to upskill and remain relevant throughout their careers within an environment that offers the flexibility needed to successfully balance work and home.
Helping women up-skill and adapt to a fast-changing world of work will be one of the defining challenges of our time. Now is the time to reset for the new reality and make the progress the next generation of women in the workplace need to see.